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Shoot the B*tch?

Consider a lady called Phoebe.

Notwithstanding a few flaws and foibles, Phoebe is basically a decent person. She leads a contented and well-adjusted life, working hard, but equally enjoying the fruits of her labour. Happily, the work she does benefits others: we know this because they keep paying her to do it. That work, moreover, involves nothing immoral. Thus, Phoebe makes an honest living. And it’s a good living. Each year, she earns a handsome income, testifying to how much she has benefited others.

Every year, too, an institution called government—democratically elected by a majority of voting citizens—commands her to contribute to its coffers some portion of her honestly earned income, specifically, whatever it unilaterally determines to be the appropriate price for the services it renders onto Phoebe and her fellow citizens. This portion typically amounts to about 30% of Phoebe’s income. Every year to date, Phoebe has dutifully complied with this command.

This year, however, Phoebe has chosen to defy the command.

Phoebe has her reasons. Many of them eminently defensible. Some are even widely endorsed. For example, she holds that the government misspends much or most of the money that it manages, carelessly casting it hither and thither, using it principally to bribe the electorate, and only secondarily to aid the deserving. She also holds that the government, through its reckless policies of progressive monetary debasement and sovereign debt accumulation, may well be setting the stage for an eventual and catastrophic economic collapse. She furthermore holds that people in government generally consist of a motley crew of box-ticking bureaucrats, insufferable narcissists, and power-hungry opportunists—none of whom deserve her fiscal tribute.

So this year, Phoebe has alternative plans for the 30% of her income that she has heretofore relinquished. Some of these plans are selfish—like going on holiday to the destination of her dreams. Others are selfless—like paying for a poor friend to have a much needed operation. At all events, she has made up her mind: she is not, under any circumstances, going to comply with government’s command that she give up 30% of her earnings.

At some deep level, she regards her earnings as entirely hers—not anybody else’s—which means nothing more or nothing less than that she, and not anyone else, gets to decide what should done with those earnings. What else could the “her” in “her earnings” mean? Has she really been earning other people’s money, and not her own, for 30% of the time she has been working, every year? Try as she might, Phoebe just cannot get her head around this strange idea, any more than she can get her head around the strange idea (which she read on a bizarre blog one day) that her 30% of her sexual life might belong to someone else, rather than entirely to herself.

Phoebe duly informs the relevant governmental authorities, by formal letter, that she is refusing to pay the taxes they demand of her. As a courtesy, she gives her main reasons, and outlines her alternative financial plans.

Some weeks later, Phoebe receives a formal reply in writing. In that reply, she is warned of the severe consequences that would attend going ahead with her proposed illegal course of action. Unless she pays the amount specified, and by the date specified, she will have to pay yet more. Moreover, if she still refuses to pay the principal and the penalties, a band of men in suits will come, with an authorising document, and attempt to confiscate some of her property. Furthermore, if she gets in the way of these men taking her valuable property, another band of men will come—this time with uniforms, badges, and guns—and attempt to subdue her by force. In the event of her continuing to resist physically—say by parrying the aggressive force used to subdue her with a matching defensive force of her own—the level of force used to subdue her may be progressively escalated, such that the risk of her being injured or killed comes to markedly exceed zero. One way or another, sufficient force will be applied such that she will be rendered harmless. If she is still alive, she will then be conveyed to a cage for a lengthy spell. Many of her neighbours in nearby cages will be sociopaths, some of whom will have been convicted of stealing from and/or physically assaulting other innocent human beings—sometimes as part of an organised gang of thugs engaging in extortion.

Phoebe ignores the formal reply.

One month later, a band of men in suits duly come by her house, and demand entry. Phoebe doesn’t let them in: she keeps the front door shut and locked. Their verbal demands going unheeded, the men in suits instruct one of their burly assistants to break down the front door with a battering ram. But Phoebe anticipates them by opening the door and brandishing a large club a menacing manner. (Not for nothing is she nicknamed “Feisty Phoebe”!) Unaccustomed to dealing with such self-possessed and indomitable ladies, the men in suits scarper, shouting back indignantly that they will report this outrage to the police, and that there will be a heavy price to pay.

Early the next morning, as promised, another band of men appear outside Phoebe’s house. Their metallic badges glint ominously in the crepuscular light. They have come for her and her property. Phoebe, however, does not intend to let them take either. For her, it’s just the principle of the thing. This time round, the men readily breach her front door, and flood ferociously into her house. They have guns in their hands—portable machines designed to propel bits of metal at great speed into human flesh. They point their guns at her, and tell her she has to come with them—or else. Phoebe knows going with them means going to the cage, and leaving her property behind for the taking. But there are too many men, carrying too powerful weapons, to repel. So she tries to flee. At the backdoor of the house, however,she encounters a large man already waiting for her, blocking her exit. The man lunges at her, toppling her over, and pinning her to the floor. Another man arrives, and attempts to put handcuffs on Phoebe, so as to render her defenceless. But Phoebe still has a free hand. She reaches for a knife in her pocket, and strives desperately to stab the man on top of her, to get him off her. She succeeds: he screams, bleeds, lets her go. The other man, seeing his colleague stabbed, takes no chances: he draws his gun and fires at Phoebe. The bullet strikes her head, enters her brain, and kills her.

Question: In this scenario, whose side are you on?

Did Phoebe, by shirking her obligations to a preposterously unreasonable degree, have it coming? Did she, by her perverse intransigence, culpably predetermine her own demise? Are people like Phoebe—who do not give when the government says that they must, preferring to satisfy private desires rather than public ones—so unforgivably selfish, or so socially pernicious, that they must, if push comes to shove, be liquidated?

Alternatively, do you suspect that there might be something amiss with Phoebe’s largely sealed fate at the hands of the state, should she have the audacity to act as if her earnings were entirely her own? Would you be personally prepared, as a human being, to hurt Phoebe, and if necessary to kill her, if she adamantly refused to materially support some society-wide endeavour to the degree that some of her fellow citizens said she should? Or would you only be prepared to countenance such violence if an organisation called democratic government—which supposedly gains its legitimacy from the Divine Right of the Masses—does your dirty work for you? In other words, are you guilty of a form of indirect and cowardly psychopathy towards your fellow human beings, unless they do the bidding of the sovereign power you happen to identify with? Are you essentially prepared to condemn your fellow human beings to extortion, incarceration, or even execution by proxy, just because you lack either the imagination or courage to conceive of an alternative to the status quo? Are you as morally blinkered today as supporters of slavery were in their time—blithely but falsely taking yourself to be a decent human being—when you are in fact fatally morally compromised?

Is Phoebe completely right and you completely wrong?

Nah. Just shoot the b*tch.

How we can Make 2018 a Libertarian Year

In 2016, the Overton window of British politics became unjammed. The window is now free to move. How can libertarians best capitalise on the new opportunities presented? Where are we now, who and what are we, and what are these opportunities? What are the threats?

I don’t presume to say who is and is not a libertarian, if that is even a useful question. It is easy to get diverted by attempts to draw a precise boundary around a definition rather than identifying what clearly lies within the boundary. You could say we are people who believe in the Non-Aggression Principle or those holding a general presumption in favour of individual freedom. Perhaps we are followers of Hayek, Rand or whoever. In contrast with socialism and communism, libertarianism is not dogmatic: there’s no defined set of policies such as ‘total nationalisation’ or ‘abolish private property’. Instead, it is more like conservatism: a set of habits of mind and attitudes about policy, rather than a set of policies themselves.

It is therefore perfectly possible for libertarians passionately and sincerely to disagree about important policy matters (e.g., Brexit, anti-trust) as well as more fundamental philosophical questions (e.g., natural rights, which were controversial even as early as Benjamin Tucker and Max Stirner). In the long term, there are threats to one of the primary units of analysis in libertarian thought: the autonomous, law-abiding individual.

There is no reason to suppose, a priori, that the rule of law will continue to exist. The first steps towards privatising quasi-legislative power in favour of machines were made in the 1990s in relation to copyright enforcement technologies. If you can implement a restriction on someone’s behaviour via software, anticircumvention laws will protect the behaviour of your software against their hacking. Even if your software’s behaviour violates their most fundamental rights such as freedom of speech. It is not hard to imagine an unregulatable world of software, robots, and drones which enforce the will of their owners, or their hackers, in a broad range of public and private areas of life. The prospects that the owners will all have libertarian views are slim.

Deeper than the attack on law, our concept of what is a human individual and our confidence that we have free will are both coming under more sustained scrutiny due to advances in medical science and philosophy. Advancing the notion that we lack free will in some important sense is the project of John Brockman, an influential literary agent who has drawn to himself many famous scientist authors, or authors whom he has made famous, and many authors of whom libertarians would tend to approve.

The best example of libertarian democratic success today is Senator David Leyonhjelm, recently re-elected a libertarian to the Australian federal parliament, where he has shared the balance of power in the upper house with various other minor parties. This necessarily entails compromise: he has the ability in limited cases to trade off his support for one measure against another. There is no room in such calculations for purism; all that is available is some of what libertarians want, or none of it. Not all of it.

It is my belief that it is worthwhile focusing both on theoretical goals and practical goals. We should know where we’d like to go, and the direction in which we should take our next step towards that destination. How we got where we are should matter less to us than that we are on the same journey.

Is the EU broke without our money ?

The following little nugget about the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) mentioned by no other than Jacob Rees-Mogg in his podcast  –,  but here is the comment that intrigued me:

“For the 21 months remaining of the multiannual financial framework, the EU is bust. It has no legal ability to borrow, and neither do the Germans want to pay more or the Poles wish to receive less.”

This somewhat throw away comment, but it got me thinking.

If the Brexit negotiations are completed by March 2019 for the remaining time after that EU will be broke without our money – and don’t forget we were a fairly large contributor the last time this happened.

When crunch time comes will the EU really have to consider how they want to treat the UK as we leave the EU. The Commission will want the UK’s money – but let’s be honest most governments like more money. The EU still wants our money but we should not want to hand it over too quickly.

In 12 months time, the EU negotiators will be in a bind. Negotiating with the UK, that wants frictionless access to the single market, not to mention pressures from the City to retain passporting for its financial services.

However, the EU is hamstrung by other EU nations stating that they will not contribute more to the EU budget and most importantly Ireland not wanting a border on the mainland. The UK may have time on their side to bring the EU to a budgetary brink and avoid overpaying on the divorce bill.

With a backdrop President Trump talking about tariffs. How does it look to the rest of the world the EU has pushed tariffs on goods coming in from Britain. They would lose some of their credibility when they complain of others doing it to them. As I said in my last post, if free trade is advantageous, then it is not only advantageous within the EU it is advantageous to trade with the world.

Could we see a shut down of the EU? Similar to what happens in Washington when budgets cannot be passed. We have not seen it happen in the history of the EU yet. This situation would reflect badly on the EU. Something that they would want to avoid…..tick-tock.

The EU could bridge the gap by cutting costs, this will not be popular with the EU commission or bureaucrats as it lessens both their power and prestige. Although the Germans along with more fiscally prudent partners will prefer this option. Those on the receiving end of the budget will no doubt prefer to have richer countries contribute more ensuring that they get the same payments to which they have become accustomed. The electorate across Europe have been overwhelmingly been voting for eurosceptic parties.  It’s going to be difficult to convince such countries to send more money to the EU, especially when bashing the EU has been profitable to parties such as AfD (Alternative for Germany),  Lega Nord (Northern League – Italy), FPO (Freedom Party of Austria). Whoever is in power in these countries will be well aware of this broad (beyond left and right) feeling of resentment towards the EU.

Another option that could raise revenues is by levelling fines on companies that trade within the EU. In case you think this is a far-fetched idea,  just have look at the following graph which shows how large the recent Google fine is compared to other countries contributions to the EU.

This is not good fiscal policy in the long run for the EU. But for the UK if we are nimble enough, this is an opportunity for us being outside of the EU jurisdiction, companies could base themselves here in the UK knowing that they are next to a very large European market. Another option for European companies would be to base themselves in the UK knowing that they would be free of some of the impositions of the EU and outside of it customs area too. The UK could well be used as a base for European companies to trade outside of the EU with greater ease. We could position ourselves as the Singapore of Europe if there was the political will to do so.

With the mantra of the negotiations being “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, UK negotiators to play the long game of chicken to the very end. Withholding money to the last moment will allow it to be in the strongest bargaining position.

First posted on

It’s a crime, unless the government is doing it

Pyramid schemes are part of human financial history, from Charles Ponzi to multilevel marketing, lots of people have already fallen prey to some kind of pyramid fraud, it is so common that now even cryptocurrencies are being used to trick gullible “investors” into giving away their assets to make extraordinary returns, only to see all of it vanish overnight. At this point most people are aware of how those schemes work, and know better not to be a victim of such an obvious scam, however the biggest pyramid scheme in human history is going with full force, and unlike all of the others, has complete support from the government, and we are all part of it.

I’m talking about state pensions. The way they work now is pretty simple: you pay taxes now, and by the time you are old you are going to get it back. Some people believe that somehow the government saves the money we are paying now, and gives it back to us in the future when we are old, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The way pensions work today is pretty much like a pyramid scheme, the money that is paid in taxes by the young people is redirected straight away to the retirees, and you don’t need to be a math genius to know this can’t hold for long.

According to the official statistics the UK government spends 20% of its budget on pensions, with 18% of the population that is retired, and the current projection is that by the year 2040 the retiree population is going to grow to 24.7%, which represents a 37.2% increase. Looking at this prediction it can be argued that in order for those retirees to have the same amount of money as the current ones, in relation to the GDP, the government would also need to increase the percentage of its budget dedicated to pensions by the same rate, which means that in the year 2040 the government would have to be spending 27.4% of its budget in pensions. So where is this money going to come from? It will have to be cut from somewhere, but where exactly? Education? Welfare? Health Care?! The ageing population will also put pressure on the budget for the NHS, which will require ever increasing funding to keep up with the demand, so it becomes clear that this system is doomed to failure, and needs drastic change.

The libertarian perspective on retirement is usually one of personal responsibility, where each individual would have their own fund, which they are going to consume in their non-working years, such system would incentivize people to save their resources and invest/spend them wisely, exactly the opposite of what happens currently with the perverse incentives laid by the current system, where you pay into a system hoping someone will pay for you in the future.

It may very well be that there is going to be no one there for the future retirees, and that the young people today are going to be the suckers in the scheme, who will be left with nothing but the costs of running this irresponsible arrangement for such a long time.